How our democracy is failing

Speaker of the lower house Bronwyn Bishop made it quite clear from the beginning that she was not going to be an impartial Speaker.

She continued to attend party meetings signalling quite clearly that she was going to be a  partisan speaker.

Why does she need to attend party meetings? The speaker is meant to be above party politics and provide  impartial and clear guidance to the Parliament on the way its business should be conducted. But not Bronwyn Bishop. She clearly thinks that being familiar with government business means that in her role as speaker she can ensure that travels smoothly through Parliament. This is not what the speaker is meant to do it as navigation one important fundamental principle of a democratic system.

Yet today we see this headline:

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop ejects 18 MPs, breaking the question time record

Bishop has also rejected a record number of Labour Party politicians: 280 (in fairness she has injected six government members during this period). On the basis of these numbers is very difficult to argue her impartiality but then no one, not even a good speaker herself has endeavoured to do that.

 Another one bites the dust: Labor MP Melissa Parke, ejected from Parliament for the first time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Another one bites the dust: Labor MP Melissa Parke, ejected from Parliament for the first time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The dangerous thing about this particular pattern of behaviour is that it means that the people who voted for the opposition are underrepresented or maybe not represented at all while their representative is excluded from the house.

But then Bishop’s view would be they don’t deserve to be in the House despite the fact they been elected by the people of the Australia.

 People would be justified in thinking that Speaker Bronwyn Bishop takes instructions from Prime Minister Tony Abbott rather than acting as an impartial Speaker should

People would be justified in thinking that Speaker Bronwyn Bishop takes instructions from Prime Minister Tony Abbott rather than acting as an impartial Speaker should

But the deeper and underlying concern here is that the damage that is being done to the  public’s confidence  in the institutions of our democracy by this particular government may prove to be irreparable. The disillusion of the electorate is palpable and justifiably so.

Tony Abbott and his right-wing rednecks from Sydney radio stations ran a virulent campaign over Julia Gillard’s  broken promises regarding the carbon tax..

But once in government Abbott has found it necessary to break a number of his promises.  latest being the cuts to the ABC and SBS.

Now is quite clear that Abbott did promise “no cuts” before the election. But we have the ridiculous situation of ministers of the Crown like Malcolm Turnbull arguing that Abbott didn’t actually do that. He did and that stupid of Turnbull to argue otherwise. All he does is destroyed as credit ability in the eyes of the Australian electorate

The public may have been disillusioned with Julia Gillard over breaking promises but now the problem has been compounded by Abbott doing exactly the same kind of thing. and there is a growing feeling, always strong, that politicians are just a bunch of liars not to be trusted in the circumstances. This is an absolute tragedy for political life in Australia.

It would be fair to say that when oppositions gain the Treasury benches they often find that changed circumstances make it difficult to deliver on election promises.

Tony Abbott’s paid pretend you leave scheme is an excellent example: it’s an expensive luxury we can’t currently afford. It should be highly modified would dump completely. This isn’t a broken promise this is good economic sense

Unfortunately good policy-making, when it involves a “broken promise” gets mind in the morass of bickering that seems to typify the Federal Parliament. And the public is getting sick of it

So what we get is the  “Schwarzenegger effect”where people are so disenchanted with mainstream politicians that they demonstrate the contempt for the mainstream politicians by electing a monosyllabic filmstar.

The Victorian election this weekend is likely to demonstrate the disillusion of the electorate by by producing a legislative Council with a balance of power is held by a a ragtag bobtail group candidates from the lunatic right.

What is even more dangerous is that this group, given the nature of the electoral system of Victoria, albeit better than most, still allows unrepresented groups to hold the balance of power in the upper house

This will create the same kind of havoc produced by the inhabitants of political Lala land in Canberra.

When Tony Abbott leaves office in two years, he will have left a political legacy that will haunt him to his grave.  it will be that we have seen the decline of public confidence in the institutions of our democracy and the total decline of our respect for our Prime Minister.

Bronwyn Bishop will have made a significant contribution to this.  And

Child sexual abuse: some people still don’t get it

The Age  ran an article on on child sexual abuse in the Jewish community.

Jewish community divided over sexual abuse accusations

Much of the article is concerned with  Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia. Kluwgant, 46, is currently Australia’s most senior rabbi.

Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant : people should not be pressured into reporting incidents of child sexual abuse

Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant : people should not be pressured into reporting incidents of child sexual abuse

One key issue in this discussion is that “under Jewish law, the prohibition of “mesirah” forbids an informer from reporting a crime to the civil authorities. Instead, a person is instructed to take the problem to their rabbi who will decide whether to act. In some orthodox communities worldwide, rabbis have maintained that mesirah applies even to child sexual abuse.

The ( Australian) rabbinical council has “no objection” to rabbis becoming mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse, which the taskforce recommends. Personally, Kluwgant is deeply torn. He says he would encourage a person to report a complaint but he would not want them pressured into it.  “You want the perpetrators to be held to account but it is really up to that person, the victim, to make a statement.”

Which bit of child abuse does he not understand?

The victims are children who can easily be frightened into not reporting such abuse even if they did understand the processes by which they should do it.

Contrast this with Australia’s Chief-of-Army David Morrison on sexual harassment in the army when he appeared on 7.30  (26th November)

Australia's Chief-of-Army David Morrison

Australia’s Chief-of-Army David Morrison

Those who think that it is OK to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army. … If that does not suit you, then get out.  I will be ruthless in ridding the Army of people who cannot live up to its values and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.   7 30 (26 November)

And then again on domestic violence

I feel deeply that I have at least a voice in reminding Australians, particularly Australian men, particularly white Australian men such as myself who have never been discriminated against in their lives, that they can’t be bystanders here. They may not perpetrate any violence against women, they may not distribute foul images, but if they know about them, if they know about violence, if they don’t do something about it, if they’re bystanders, then through their actions they need to be held to account, in my view.

Now the good general is going to have his work cut out of with the report  into various forms of abuse in the defence forces that has now been tabled in Parliament. Now he will have an opportunity to walk the talk. Particularly in the light of the recommendations before the Senate

 Defence Abuse Report Taskforce: report recommends Royal commission into abuse

The problem with Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant is that  he doesn’t really appear to be talking the talk yet.

The ironies of being tough on crime

The Napthine government has taken the painfully familiar stance of the most right-wing governments in announcing that they are “tough on crime”.

One of the key planks in this policy was the move towards tough and mandatory sentencing that effectively bypassed any chances of criminals being rehabilitated outside the prison system. The escalation of prison numbers has resulted in overcrowding in the state prisons and a scramble to build more prisons and hiring more prison officers to staff them. It appears that the prisons are filling up as fast as we can build them.

Then comes the surprising announcement leading into the 2014 state election:

Victorian State Election: Napthine promises 250 extra police

Hold on! If the tough on crime approach has been successful, we would expect a reduction in the police force as result of falling crime rates.

But no, this is not what happened. We need more police.

One thing appears clear, if a government is tough on crime, we should see the crime rate falling and not the need to employ extra police.

The difficulty with the “tough on crime” approach being delivered through the Courts in terms of tough sentencing regimes is that it doesn’t work. Everybody was an intelligent interest in the justice system knows this and understand why.

The fundamental flaw in this approach is that prison sentences only serve as a deterrent in a small number of cases. Prison sentences certainly get the criminals off the streets, for a while. The problem is what happens to them as result of being in jail.

The problem is called recidivism which which is the tendency for people to reoffend after they have left prison. In the case of hardened career criminals there is often little chance of rehabilitation and the risk and rights of recidivism remain high

But in many cases non-custodial sentences and rehabilitation can be effective. If this approach  avoids people returning to jail then this is a positive both in human societal and economic terms.

The problem is most acute with  jailing first-time offenders  whose prison term allows them the opportunity to spend an extended period of time in the company of more hardened criminals and to be acculturated into the criminal underworld.

This process sets up what is known in Systems Theory as a reinforcing loop.

untitled 7

This is a causal loop diagram. The arrows indicate causal connections. The letter S indicates that cause and effect move in the Same direction.

If custodial sentences increase the population increases. If custodial sentences go down, then the prison population goes down. Once we start increasing custodial sentences, the situation starts escalating and the effect of increasing custodial sentences is that crime goes up.

Not quite what the Napthine government believes.

It’s a classic example of what is known as the counter-intuitive effect of policy, where you do something and get exactly the opposite result. Its actually quite hard to achieve, but if you are stupid enough and you work at it, you can get that to happen.

There is a strong argument for not jailing first-time offenders particularly for minor offences and placing them in rehabilitation programmes such as those run out of the Neighbourhood Justice Centre in Collingwood.  This gives these people an opportunity to turn their lives around, it doesn’t always work, but then the current system doesn’t appear to work at all.

PUP dumps Lambie/ Lambie dumps PUP

There will be two sides of this particular story in the next few days: Jacqui’s side and Clive’s side.

Who to believe?

Does it matter?

No it doesn’t.

One thing is certain: Jacqui Lambie has now left PUP and Clive Palmer’s political influence has declined to zero. So, for that matter, has the influence of the other two PUP senators Zhenya Wang and Glenn Lazarus.

Zhenya Wang  And Jacqui Lambie: Kiss and make up may be a way off now

Zhenya Wang And Jacqui Lambie: Kiss and make up may be a way off now

Either Lambie is turning into an extremely astute politician or she is being very well advised/cleverly manipulated. I expect it’s a bit of all of these and that Nick Xenophon is in the background. Lambie certainly gained considerable political and public kudos from breaking with Clive Palmer and PUP.

This is partly because Palmer is becoming an extremely unpopular and unpleasant political figure. His arrogant performances on television did not enhance his status as the leader of minor political party in Australia and certainly lead to the suspicion that he’s been up to some dodgy business with his campaign funding.

There is also probably a growing awareness that he is not a particularly smart politician.

Standing for the lower house seat of Fairfax, rather than standing in the Senate, where he would surely have won a seat, was a significant strategic mistake. It meant he was unable to exercise the considerable influence that came with holding the balance of power. Instead, he was out of the main game and unable to control the erratic and unpredictable Lambie.

Lambie is casting herself as the people’s champion, standing up to the government on unpopular issues such as the GP co-payment, paid parental leave scheme and the deregulation of university fees.

People love to see the little guy giving the big guys a bit of a whacking. And Lambie certainly signalled that she was going to be a whacker when she labelled Prime Minister Tony Abbott a “political psychopath” shortly after arriving in Canberra.

While many people may applaud Lambie for she’s done, the reality is we now have an extremely unstable and unpredictable maverick with very little policy experience making up the script as she goes along. She also will be exerting an influence on the political process that shes simply does not have a mandate for.

The difficulty is that she may soon be at the mercy of political forces she does not understand and certainly can’t control, much the same as Ricky Muir. It does not bode well for good government in Australia.

Update (as it happens)

Jacqui Lambie pre-empted action by Palmer United Party by quitting party first, says Clive Palmer

Voting below the line for the Legislative Council

There is a record number of minor parties standing for election in the upper house in the forthcoming Victorian election.

Many of these parties represent the religious right with its regressive social policies on issues such as euthanasia, immigration, same-sex marriage and religion in schools.

There is also a raft of single-issue parties such as the Motoring Enthusiasts Party which delivered Ricky (poo-chucker) Muir to the Senate in the last federal election.

It is therefore vitally important that everybody understands how the Victorian voting system works.


If you vote above the line, you put a 1 in the box of the party you wish to vote for. This means that your vote will be distributed to all the parties that are nominated as preferences for that party.

Ultimately, your vote, or part of it, will go to a minor party candidate such as Danny Nalliah of the Rise Up Australia party.  You may remember that Danny Nalliah said that the Victorian bush fires were God’s punishment for the abortion legislation that has passed through the Victorian Parliament.

If you do not want your preferences to be directed to a candidate like Denny Nalliahy, then you must vote below the line.

To do this you must place the numbers 1-5 against the candidates you wish to vote for. You may vote for more than five but you must vote for five.

If you vote for five, then your preferences will not be allocated to anyone other than those five candidates.

The same applies if you vote below the line and vote for more than five candidates. You may vote for them all and if you do that you will  have indicated the order in which your preferences will be distributed.

If you vote above the line, you let that political party distribute your preferences, and given the byzantine processes of preference  allocation, you really have no idea in which order they will be distributed.

Voluntary euthanasia: a leadership issue for Andrews and Napthine

It has been increasingly clear over time that the vast majority, probably around 80%, of Victorians were in favour of voluntary euthanasia. Yet the two main political parties have shown no interest in making this an election issue. And certainly there is no leadership from either Napthine or Andrews on this issue.

Dan and Den: as  politically distinguishable as Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Dan and Den: as politically distinguishable as Tweedledum and Tweedledee

They are clearly frightened of the religious right and the impact it would have on their election chances.

They might be surprised if they took a stand.

It’s a kind of issue that could swing the election particularly when when nobody gives a shit about who’s going to be elected.

This serves to highlight the central problem in our democracy as is currently functions.

There is no simple mechanism to get an issue which has widespread electoral support on the agenda. There are private members bills but no member of the Liberal or Labor parties is going to break ranks to do put one forward.

Actually there is a simple mechanism: it’s for the leader of the political party to stand up and say, ” I am going to make voluntary euthanasia an issue of the next election.”

Then the 80% of people who support it can say themselves “Well there’s nothing to distinguish these bastards, they’re all going to build the same number of level crossings and create 1 million new jobs. So I might as well vote for the party that is going to introduce voluntary euthanasia.”

Postscript: Poor old Dennis he certainly has recognition issues: my Dragon voice recognition software normally prints his name as naphthalene or Netflicks.

This could have been a game changer

Liberal candidate sacked over links to porn star The Liberal Party has disendorsed Nitin Gursahani as a candidate for the seat of Thomastown. Mr Gursahani was reportedly bringing Bollywood adult film star Sunny Leone to Melbourne to appear in a campaign event the night before the November 29 state poll


It would have been the highlight of the Liberal party campaign. They must surely have reached the point where they believe that “there is no such thing as bad publicity.”

Given a choice between Sunny Leone appearing at the campaign launch and Dennis Napthine channelling funds to his mate in Warnambool against the advice of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, I think there’s less harm in Miss Leone appearing at the campaign launch

Career Ambitions and Credibility: Julie Bishop’s Gap Problem

There is clearly some subtle manoeuvring going on to position Julie Bishop is the natural successor to Tony Abbott and there must be some hard heads in the Liberal party understand that his erratic behaviour and continued popularity may significantly affect their re-election chances.

So, the groundwork is being laid and the coverage in The Age Weekend Magazine Less Of a Bishop, more of a pope is clearly part of a carefully orchestrated campaign. It was a puff-piece designed to glamorise Bishop in the eyes of the Australian electorate.

untitled 7

Tony Abbott must be furious, no one is taking flattering photographs of him nowadays

However, Bishop has some significant credability problems and she has these in common with Malcolm Turnbull who recently appeared on 7.30 to defend Tony Abbott’s “no cuts to the ABC” promised before the last general election.

 Malcolm Turnbull tried to think of ways to defend Tony Abbott's broken promises

Malcolm Turnbull tried to think of ways to defend Tony Abbott’s broken promises

The difficulty for Turnbull (and for Bishop) is that the people who watch this program are  not idiots  and simply don’t swallow this kind of nonsense.  All Turnbull managed to do in this interview is to make himself look silly which he clearly isn’t.

Julie Bishop has a similar credibility problem when she tried to defend issues related to climate change and in particular Tony Abbott “flat earth” approach to the problem. One thing that the G 20 conference did was to make it quite clear to the Australian population that the Australian government is well out of step with the rest of the world.

President Obama said he wanted his children to be able to visit the Great Barrier Reef. but Bishop decided to attack the US President. Probably not a wise move in the best of circumstances but she did it using the anti-science approach typifies much of the public utterances of the Abbott government on climate change and related issues.

In an interview with Fairfax Media’s Latika Bourke in New York, Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop said the Reef was “not under threat from climate change because its biggest threat is the nutrient runoffs agricultural land, the second biggest threat is natural disasters, but this has been for 200 years”.

This is just nonsense and Bishop must know it.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said in its 2014: “Climate change remains the most serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef. It is already affecting the reef and is likely to have far-reaching consequences in the decades to come.”

Coral bleaching on the Great Bariatric Reef as a result of warmer oceanic temperatures

Coral bleaching on the Great Bariatric Reef as a result of warmer oceanic temperatures

Why is it that politicians who may possibly have a chance of laying claim to bringing an intelligent and well formed mind to policy formulation say such stupid things?

And for those of us who have been paying close attention, we should remember the attacks that Bishop launched on the Labor Government’s successful attempts to gain Australia a seat on the UN  Security Council. Now she is the beneficiary of this and quite rightly, so as she is the Foreign Minister.

Julie Bishop at the UN Security Council: A beneficiary of Labor Party efforts.

Julie Bishop at the UN Security Council: A beneficiary of Labor Party efforts.

But you would have thought that as a matter of principle, being the main critic of these efforts, she would have refused to take her seat on the Security Council.

But no, what ambitious politician would have turned down an opportunity like this. Certainly not Julie Bishop

Renaissance influences on Tom Roberts’ Shearing the Rams

The Wikipedia entry on Shearing the Rams  comments on the similarity between the young boy carrying the fleece and Esau in Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise at the Florence Baptistry. untitled 7 If we flip the detail from the Roberts, the similarity is even more striking.

untitled 8 How does this work?

Did Roberts have the Ghiberti in mind as he painted? Or is this something that was deep in the subconscious of the painter  yet still influencing, in some  subtle way, the structure of the painting.

The link between the Ghiberti and the Roberts is quite clear. There are similarities between the Roberts painting and one of the great Renaissance masters: Tintoretto. It  is subtler but, I think, unmistakable.

Here are two painting  separated by nearly 500 years. The first is the iconic Australian painting Shearing the Rams by Tom Roberts

 Tom Roberts: Shearing the Rams

Tom Roberts: Shearing the Rams

The second is The Birth of John the Baptist  by Jacopo  Tintoretto.

 Tintoretto: the Birth of kept on the Baptist

Tintoretto: the Birth of kept on the Baptist

The structures of the two paintings are strikingly similar. In both cases, the movement of the painting is from lower left to upper right. It’s more pronounced in the Roberts where the line of shearer’s leads the viewer’s eye to the open space beyond the shearing shed. In the Tintoretto, John’s mother is framed by waiting woman who is structurally an extension of the group in the foreground and the man, presumably John’s father on the right-hand side of the painting. The grouping of the figures in the foreground in both paintings is similar and serves to focus us on the infant in the Tintoretto and on the ram in the Roberts.

untitled 7

Notice how, in Tintoretto, the gaze of the women is directed towards the infant John while in the Roberts, the three men focus on the ram. There is a bigger space between the figures in the Roberts. There are six women in the central group in the Tintoretto while there are only three in the Roberts. Nonetheless, the structure of the paintings is strikingly similar.

Notice too how the young boy carrying the fleece and the man holding the sheep serve a  similar structural function to the woman on the very left of the Tintoretto. She’s a large figure and serves, along with the two women to the right to frame the central figures in the painting.

In the Roberts, there is a space between figures and that space serves to isolate the line of shearers and lead the viewer’s eye out to the open space beyond to shearing shed. In a similar back to subtler manner, the figures in the Tintoretto lead us the figure of John’s mother in the background. The other similarity is two figures to the right of both paintings both of which serve to frame the paintings. They appear to be disinterested  bystanders, perhaps one is infant John’s father.

 Two disinterested bystanders

Two disinterested bystanders.

Fat Ducks and financial advisers

Some people never learn, do they.

With our legislators examining  the Future of Financial Advice bill in the Senate and giving national publicity to the way in which the Abbot government is lowering standards of accountability for financial advisers, a group of financial advisers managed to get themselves in the headlines for hacking the booking system for Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant in Melbourne.

Heston: Fat Duck plucked

Heston: Fat Duck plucked

It’s not a big deal. It’s just a dirty deal.

Like the deals that were done by financial advisers supporting TimberCorp.

It has been revealed that a trio of financial professionals hired an Asia-based IT expert to scam the online booking system of the exclusive Melbourne eatery to make more than 100 reservations,

You would think they would keep their heads down.

But no.

Someone’s writing computer programs to hack the booking system for Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant.

And that’s just to go out to dinner.

You wonder what they do when they want to make some serious money.